Political leaders from around the nation and Georgia packed a church Saturday to say goodbye to Paul Coverdell, the second-term senator who died of a brain hemorrhage.
Some fought to choke back tears, including Gov. Roy Barnes, who had difficulty saying “Goodbye, old friend.”
Coverdell, 61, who died Tuesday, was remembered as a gentle man and as a politician who preferred to work behind the scenes rather than hog the spotlight.
In addition to Georgia’s congressional delegation, mourners from Washington included dozens of Coverdell’s Senate and House colleagues, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Sen. Fred Dalton Thompson of Tennessee.
The White House was represented by Defense Secretary William Cohen.
Republican presidential hopeful George W. Bush had no role in the service at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church, but he sat with Coverdell’s widow, Nancy.
One of several eulogies read at the service was written by Bush’s father, former President George Bush, who said Coverdell “told us that quiet is good, caring about the other guy matters.”
Barnes said Coverdell became his mentor when he was first elected to the state Senate even though they were of different parties. Barnes is a Democrat and Coverdell was a Republican.
Despite their political differences, they became close friends and at one point counseled each other on their political plans, Barnes said.
“Oh, how we need more of him,” Barnes said. “It would take away some of the acrimony.”
Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas drew chuckles and smiles with his remembrance of Coverdell.
“We won’t soon forget that squeaky voice, that disheveled hair, those flailing arms,” Gramm said. At the same time, he said, Coverdell’s friends and admirers also would remember his “lion heart, iron will and loving ways.”
Coverdell was “the kind of man your mama wanted you to grow up to be,” Gramm said.
Longtime friend Clyde Rodbell also fought back tears.
“In many ways, he was simply an ordinary man with special qualities and huge talents,” he said.
Also attending were former Democratic Gov. Zell Miller, said to be Barnes’ top choice for the appointment to fill Coverdell’s seat; former Gov. Lester Maddox, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
“Paul Coverdell lived a life that we can all be proud of and look up to,” Gingrich said following the service.